What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When Pastors and Priests Prey

Last week on January 16th in Geneva, Switzerland, a historic milestone took place as the Holy See went before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee was seeking detailed information on the sexual violence against children by Catholic clergy around the world, its cover up within the church and the denial of justice and compensation for victims.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

A day earlier I went to a special screening of Silence in the House of God, a HBO documentary which details the first known protests against clergy sexual abuse in the USA. The documentary also exposures other cases of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy around the world. After the documentary, the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted a panel discussion with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It was emotional to hear their stories and inspiring to witness their unbroken spirits and determination to secure justice.

The realities of clergy sexual abuse of women and minors both boys and girls is now more widely known. However, it is still a taboo subject for many and some victims feel as though they have nowhere to turn with little support from their communities due to the status of clergy persons.

In October 2013, the World Christian Student Federation (WSCF) re-launched a book titled When Pastors and Priests Prey – Identifying, Preventing and Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women, a book, which aims to raise awareness about identifying, preventing and overcoming clergy sexual abuse of women.

We hope that this effort will begin a cultural transformation within the worldwide church.” ~ Christine Housel, General Secretary of the WSCF

The book, which was supported by the World Council of Churches’ Women in Church and Society project, offers insights from researchers, advocates and survivors. Also included is a speech by former President Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World Religions in which he states:

The truth is the male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

As in any case of sexual abuse it is essential that justice prevails and that the perpetrators are brought before the law and punished for their horrific crimes. However, in situations involving the clergy such as catholic priests, the Holy See have their own law known as Canon – religious – Law, when asked to provide information on known sexual abuse cases (letter of complaints from victims and legal documents of canon law trials of sexual abuse perpetrators) the Holy See declined stating that it is

not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline.”

This presents a serious problem and complete lack of transparency.

Instead of the sexual abuse perpetrators and paedophiles receiving prison sentences and rehabilitation, these men are simply either stripped of their priesthood or in the case of women (nuns) denied Catholic membership (but are still able to live freely never being brought to justice) or sent to a Catholic rehabilitation centre and then placed into a different parish to continue their religious life as clergy persons and therefore are free to commit the abuse all over again.

In May 2013, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban said in a BBC interview that he had dealt with cases of child sex abuse, which were handled by the church internally, and not referred to the police. There are thousands of cases just like this; clergy, brothers, preachers, pastors and nuns, many churches and religious institutions intertwined in ungodly acts such as sexual and physical abuse, is this really justice?

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

An NGO report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year by the Centre for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), lists harrowing examples of the kind of harm done to children by Catholic priests which was subsequently covered up by the Church: a priest who regularly forced sex upon two boys simultaneously; the case of a 9 year old girl who was molested in the confessional booth; that of another 15 year old girl who was taken for an abortion by the same priest who had raped and impregnated her; and a priest who offered money to boys in exchange for acts of sadomasochism – the list is extensive.

This is a global problem with cases from all regions of the world being reported. All perpetrators of any form of abuse must be held accountable by the same laws that govern ‘lay persons’ and those that know and try to cover up the abuse (such as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger) are as guilty as those who commit the crimes – in my opinion. Therefore, let’s break the silence, demand justice for all and prevent this abuse from continuing. Holy See it is time to confess your sins and be held accountable.

For more information

Child Sexual Abuse and the Holy See, a preliminary report from Child Rights International Network

Twitter

#HolySeeConfess

@CRINwire

@SNAPNetwork

@Pontifex_ln

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons